Commentaries - February 2012


Spring 2013
David Gutkin, Editor-in-Chief

For this issue we are looking for writing on music that departs from the implicit and explicit norms of academic music scholarship in favor of a more experimental or creative approach to language and form. “Experimental writing on music” is a broad criterion and we would like to keep it that way. Thus, the following should simply be taken as examples of some possible avenues to pursue: 

-       Writings that address relationships between music (or sound) and language not solely as a topic but in the immanent technique of the writing itself

-       Innovative uses of language, graphics, or the materiality of text and page that facilitate novel ways of conceptualizing music

-       Non-traditional music-theoretical analyses

-       Pieces that deal with more broadly cultural and political aspects of music/sound in formally compelling ways

 -       Writings that might be out of place in other publications (this might include fragmentary or essayistic pieces)             

 If you have other ideas on how to write about (or with, in, through) music, please don’t think twice. “Experimental writing” does not mean that the music under consideration need be considered experimental. Digital/internet media may be used. Submissions may be of any length. Scholars of music, but also poets, philosophers, composers, dancers, visual artists and other writers are encouraged to submit.

published at Columbia University

please submit to djg2139   @ by December 15, 2012.

David Buuck and the reenactment of Occupy Oakland

image copyright Lawrence Schwartzwald
image copyright Lawrence Schwartzwald

This past Saturday David Buuck presented at the Bowery Poetry Club for the Segue Series. I say “presented,” rather than “read,” as his reading featured video and song in addition to recitation. David has been exploring a very interesting range of problems in an expanded field of poetry for some time. Some of this is contained in his book The Shunt, which appeared with Palm Press in 2009. Yet the majority of it has been documented through pamphlets the poet-artist-theorist has put out himself, under the moniker BARGE, which stands for The Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics, and more recently on Vimeo.

While I have long admired David’s performances, which blend constraint-based writing with movement, dance, and music, this Saturday had an added urgency as he addressed conflicts between participants in the occupy movement and police in his native Oakland.

For years David and I have had an ongoing conversation about the uses (and abuses) of “reenactment” for public demonstration and aesthetic intervention. His 2008 work, Buried Treasure Island (which I discuss in a previous article at Jacket 2, on “Somatic Poetics”), features “pre-enactments” of what he hopes will be future ecological actions and sites, figured through the artist Gordon Matta-Clark for whom he has named a yet-to-be-remediated “park” on the island.

Reenactment came up in a different way through the performance at Segue, where David first read what seemed to be a series of instructions for dance and/or movement (like ones a Yoga instructor might give, or he and I might give our students at Bard College’s Language and Thinking workshop). After reading these instructions — to bend your arm so many degrees, to place your chest on the ground, to exhale in a particular way — David proceeded to read from an Oakland police blotter, which he told me afterwards had been leaked by the hacktivist Anonymous only days before.

Like much conceptual reappropriation, David’s reading from the blotter was interesting for the ways that it framed the Oakland police, whose history of corruption and violence are notorious, going back to the Black Panthers and other activist groups of the 60s and 70s. When David finished reading from the blotter, a video projection from his laptop was cued.  As soon as the video came on and David started reading, one could hear resonances with the first text he had read. Only now he provided an image track giving this language context for the first time in the performance.

The video was compiled from Livestream and cellphone footage of occupiers clashing with police. Often it was pixellated, a fact that David’s text described repeatedly, the pixellation enacting the withdrawal of the image’s representational power, abstracting an erstwhile documentary content. Most of all, for me, the pixellation embodied an affective content; it obscured events which could not easily be represented, and which instead demanded witness — specifically the body brutalized and made vulnerable, armorless before a phalanx of fully-armored cops. In other footage one saw an equally beautiful (and fairly abstract) image of a camera being dropped to the ground, pointing at the sky as it inadvertently recorded the silhouettes of police beating citizens with truncheons. In yet another video, a woman was flung onto pavement face first by police. David replayed these discrete videos in slow motion, synching them with his minute descriptions of movements and gestures depicted in the footage.

As David also commented to me afterwards during an extensive conversation about his involvement in the Oakland occupation, where his performance may have seemed to attempt to reenact scenes from the occupation, it instead foregrounded the impossibility of successful reenactment, the bodies that produced its context being withdrawn from us, the social conditions that produced that context someplace other than what he read and the video he showed. It reminded me of something Adorno says in Aesthetic Theory, that we reenact what could not be felt the first time around. Through his use of bodily and textual constraint, and through tactical remediation and recontextualization, David touches an affective content that we might otherwise not feel through the representation of political and social traumas, traumas which for many have become deeply personal through their involvement with the occupy movement.

To conclude the performance, David showed footage of a GA assembly in Oakland, the facilitator speaking through the People’s Microphone while using American Sign Language to communicate with the assembly simultaneously. While doing so he sang a song, the words of which were obscure, if they were words at all. As if to foreground the production of language in a body. That the song was sung live while the video played silently also amplified a sense of false return. The unheimlich of almost uttering words, as though a lack of articulation could compensate for us not having been ‘there.’

Poetry in the streets

Rio book release party for Sérgio Vaz's _Literatura, Pão e Poesia_
Rio book release party for Sérgio Vaz's _Literatura, Pão e Poesia_

In December, I spent a vibrant night at the Cooperifa spoken word salon on the South Side periphery of São Paulo. The open-mic sessions take place every Wednesday at the bar of Zé Batidão, a neighborhood gathering spot in Jardim Guarujá, where up to 300 people of all ages converge weekly to listen to and perform poems. Over the last eleven years, Cooperifa (the name is a compound of cooperativa and periferia) has become well-known in São Paulo and throughout Brazil for uniting and strengthening, through poetry, a community that is marginalized in both social and geographic senses. Sérgio Vaz, a poet and founder of Cooperifa, is widely recognized as a community leader; in 2009, Época magazine named him one of the hundred most influential people in Brazil. Indeed, Cooperifa spoken word is something of a popular movement that has spread beyond São Paulo.

Cover of Sérgio Vaz's _Literatura, Pão e Poesia_

I experienced the sense of this movement a week ago in downtown Rio at the release party for Vaz's most recent book, a collection of crônicas called Literatura, Pão e Poesia (Global, 2011). (The crônica is a genre particular to Portuguese-language literature. Often appearing as a newspaper column, it is a short personal essay or story, usually with a social and/or literary theme. According to Sophia Beal, crônicas are "frequently casual and humorous, often written in the first person and focused on contemporary, urban subject matter.") After signing copies of the book, in lieu of reading, Vaz exited the tiny Folha Seca bookstore to join the crowd gathered in the street outside. There the reading began, as people in the crowd took the spotlight. Many of them performed from Colecionador de Pedras, the anthology of Cooperifa poetry organized by Vaz, and I was told they were reading their own poems. Vaz eventually performed a few of his poems, his body almost boxing as he spoke. The photo at top is from the reading; Vaz is on the far right, wearing a gray Cooperifa t-shirt.

Cooperifa is deserving of another post, but what I want to share now is a video from the December 14 salon, the last in a year of celebration for Cooperifa's 10th anniversary. (Just this month, on February 10, Cooperifa turned 11). At the end of the grand evening of spoken word came a surprise: São Paulo samba school Imperatriz do Samba (Empress of Samba) arrived to unveil its 2012 Carnaval theme, "Sérgio Vaz, O Poeta da Periferia" (Sérgio Vaz, Poet of the Periphery). The drumming started, tables in the bar were quickly stacked away, and we were treated to a preview of Imperatriz's samba enredo, complete with music, costumes, and dancing. In honor of Vaz, the samba tells the story of poetry in its many incarnations. In the video below, look for a female dancer in gold, representing classical poetry, a winged male dancer dressed in red and newspaper who represents the poetry of the street, and good old "Poesia" in purple. Besides the samba school, you'll see Cooperifa folks, including the grandmothers of Cooperifa, who, after throwing it down on the open mic, sambaed all night. Packed dancing with several hundred people, I did my best with the video. Bom Carnaval!

Imperatriz do Samba performed yesterday at Carnaval in Taboão da Serra, Greater São Paulo, although according to this news article from Friday, the region's official Carnaval parade was cancelled. (The article doesn't say why.) Imperatriz decided to parade nonetheless, with everything but the floats.

With two videos of Perednik by Ernesto Livon-Grosman

photo by Ernesto Livon-Grosman

Jorge Santiago Perednik (1952-2011) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An influential poet and literary critic, he was also a publisher and a translator of English and American poetry. He founded several literary journals, two of the most influential being XUL and Deriva. The former was an important poetry journal that started publishing during Argentina’s last military dictatorship in 1980; it continued until 1997 with the printing of its 12th issue. As a journal, XUL provided regular compilations of some the most innovative poetry of its time. The journal was also one of Argentina’s best sources of new critical writing.  It was dedicated to publishing the most diverse poetics within the experimental tradition. Perednik's work as a poet and editor reflected his interest in many of the poetics included in the journal: visual poetry; John Cage’s mesostics; sound and performative texts--along with the most serious experimental works in Spanish American poetry. Perednik’s writing was primarily associated with his always expanding interest in exploring language and its relation to poetry rather than with any particular literary school.

 He had a long career as a teacher and through time became an important interlocutor for multiple generations of poets. His reading of American poetry became the departure point for some of the most striking Spanish translations of poets such as T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummmings and Charles Olson. In the 1990s, he developed a series of editorial projects with Mexican and American poets. His poetry books include: Los mil micos (1978), El cuerpo del horror (1981), El Shock de los Lender (1986),  El fin de no (1991), El gran derrapador (2002), La querella de los gustos (2007) among others.

Electronic editon of XUL:

English language version of texts published in the journal:
The XUL Reader

A one hour interview and reading  at PennSound.

Molly Weigel's translaiton of The Shock of the Lenders is forthcoming from Action Books in Spring. The XUL reader publication of the "Main Fragment" from the poem is here.

videos at PennSound Livon-Grosman page



Recently I was asked to speak for a few minutes about a Jewish writer I believe should be better known. Primo Levi certainly is well known, but perhaps more known of than read, beyond, perhaps, Survival in Auschwitz, which maintains something of a life on high school and college curricula as a partner to, or substitute for, Elie Wiesel’s Night. (They are utterly not the same book. Nor the same kind of book. But they feel to teachers somehow like bookends.) In any case, Primo Levi wrote several other extraordinary books, the most powerful (and by far most formally experimental) of which is The Periodic Table. It is a modernist epic in prose. It has none of the immodesty of The Cantos or Ulysses or The Bridge or Paterson, but it seeks, through genocide and meditations on science pedagogy, to make a whole gigantic statement about what’s elemental of the meaning we make, and its parts, elements of a table that it itself a supreme fiction explaining the whole world, do not add up to a coherence but yet do embody the world. Readers of this commentary will have read my praise of this book before, so I will not dwell on it here. But I do happily present my 17-minute talk on the book. Because of the time constraint, I had to choose what to say about several parts that would be representative of the whole, so I concentrated on the final paragraphs of “Iron” (a chapter preceding Levi's stay at Auschwitz, which is reckoned in the chapter called “Cerium”) and the final paragraphs of “Carbon,” the last chapter of the book, and its most (shall we say) organic. Organic in theme and celebratory of the fictive present-tense-writing self in form. Here is that audio: MP3.